King Kenny so proud of his double heroes
DOUBLE DELIGHT FOR LILYWHITES
DUNDALK manager Stephen Kenny admitted the fear of driving back down the M1 for a third year running without the FAI Cup drove his side to victory on Sunday.
Patrick McEleney’s 73rd minute header ensured the Lilywhites won their second double in four seasons following a 2-1 win over Cork City at the Aviva.
After defeats to John Caulfield’s side in the 2016 and 2017 deciders, Kenny’s emotion at the fulltime whistle told you exactly what it meant to him.
‘To win the double like that having lost it last season in the manner we did, it was a euphoric feeling,’ he said.
‘The league is the real testament of a great team, but there is something about a cup final which is very euphoric in that instance, it was very special.
‘We didn’t want to face going back to Dundalk tonight without it. There was a real determination not to let that happen. Preparations this year were better overall and we’re delighted to win it.
‘It would have been difficult to face going up the road without it to be honest. I couldn’t even bear thinking about it. It’s our second double and we should really have three doubles I feel. It was important to do that today. To be fair to Cork, we were never comfortable in the game at all.’
Kenny admitted that the Rebels made life difficult for his side but he felt they deserved their win in the end.
‘Cork’s game plan worked to a degree in the first half and we found space at a premium and it was difficult to play through the midfield but definitely in the second half we were much better and we deserved to win in the end.
‘Cork are a very experienced team. They’ve a lot of very strong characters and they don’t give you an inch. They’ve good players and you’ve got to rise above that. The players with great individual talent, you’re looking for them to come to the fore and thankfully they did.’
Having taken a 19th minute lead through Sean Hoare, Cork were gifted an equaliser just two minutes later when Kieran Sadlier converted a penalty after Hoare had fouled Karl Sheppard. Kenny said it was something that shouldn’t have happened.
‘It’s a cardinal sin. It’s one that we never do. We understand, we speak about it a lot. We probably don’t concede that in Oriel Park.
‘Some of the players celebrated with members of their family which they wouldn’t normally do. We switched off and we got punished.’
Despite that setback, the manager said he felt his side improved in the second half with Patrick McEleney grabbing a 73rd minute winner.
‘Cork had a lot of players in that area in the first half so it was difficult to find space but Patrick opened up in the second half and was very influential.
‘He just timed his run. He’s not noted for his heading ability but it was a great cross from Sean Gannon and a great finish.
‘It was a great day and brilliant to win it in the manner that we did. The players have been brilliant all season and I’m really, really proud of them today having shown their persistence to keep believing they could win it. To come back and win it with that late goal was great.’
On his emotion at the end, Kenny said: ‘It’s an incredible feeling. It’s a great to experience it. I feel so privileged to experience that feeling. To go and work for the year, to be in the final and to score a late winner, the passion and the connection with the players and support is amazing.’
Pushed on his future plans, Kenny said he just wanted to enjoy this success for now.
‘We’ll enjoy this. The players, wives and partners are staying in the Ballymascanlon. It would be a sombre place had we not gone back with this, even though we won the league. There is a big event organised by the council in the square in Dundalk, the danger with that, if we didn’t win it, it would have been a damp squib. It will be electric tomorrow night.
‘The whole region emptied out. People wondered would there be fatigue but the supporters have come up and lost two. I was talking to one girl yesterday and she was saying I’m going the final but going back on the train last year was terrible. To have the level of support we have, considering the population, is amazing.
‘We’ve won and lost here. When you lose, it’s a lonely place. To win it, to play well, pushing and unlocking the door, the euphoric nature of winning like that is really special. The players deserve huge credit.’
Kenny also dismissed John Caulfield’s pre-match suggestion that Dundalk were signing players they didn’t need following their US investment.
‘We’ve built a team here with young Irish players. I don’t like the narrative, it’s not right, it’s not true. We built a team of young Irish players not from the top teams and just because we’ve US investment, that’s irrelevant really, it could be helpful moving forward. I think it might help us retain our better players where in the past we’ve lost them.
‘I think we’ve earned the right, more than earned the right, it’s still all the players who have come from teams in the lower half of the table. When you analyse it properly, it’s such an easy thing to say or write. I didn’t see much truth in that. It’s often an easy target.
‘There could be a lot of clubs that could be good next year. A lot can change in a year, the story of Dundalk tells you that. I wouldn’t be confident of anything bar trying to be better, hopefully trying to go and win stuff again. It’s naïve to think we can be comfortable, I don’t think like that. I’ve enough experiences in my life not to think about that.’
Meanwhile, the club’s opposition analyst Ruaidhrí Higgins is expected to depart Oriel Park to take up the assistant manager role with his native Derry City, with Declan Devine as manager. Pictures: Sportsfile
Stephen Kenny rejoices at the final whistle as Dundalk defeat Cork in the FAI Cup final to complete a famous double. Inset, Kenny and assistant manager Vinny Perth embrace after the game.